Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

On the Diverse Duties of the Servants of Princes: Lorenz Beger (1653-1705), Librarian, Antiquarian, and Court Poet in Heidelberg

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

On the Diverse Duties of the Servants of Princes: Lorenz Beger (1653-1705), Librarian, Antiquarian, and Court Poet in Heidelberg

Article excerpt

Lorenz Beger was in court service for thirty years, from 1675 until his death at the age of fifty-one. The son of a tanner and member of Heidelberg civic council, he followed a career of interest for a variety of reasons, not least because it demonstrates the now well-established view that in a courtly age it was the court that acted as a vehicle of social mobility for the aspiring student of middle-class origin. If the patronage of the prince could be won, a career at court offered the opportunity to break through the rigid strata of seventeenth-century society and realize one's talents, be it as lawyer, artist, or scholar, to achieve material success, possibly even a degree of fame. (1) While this article illustrates how Beger's achievements and rise within society resulted from the patronage of four different princes, Karl Ludwig (1617-80), and Karl II (1651-85), Electors of the Pfalz, and the Great Elector (1620-88) and his son, Friedrich III of Brandenburg (1657-1713), I also highlight the pressures that were brought to bear on a servant of princes at this time. For all that Beger's relationship with his patrons was mutually beneficial in that their patronage allowed him to develop his innate talents, which, as will emerge below, in turn served to enhance the status of their electoral houses, his career demonstrates how the security of his position depended on his capacity to adapt to new constellations at court and on his versatility: in his effort to respond to the diverse demands of different masters, Beger worked as a theologian, antiquarian, librarian, poet, and organizer of as well as participator in court festivities. The first part of this article is principally concerned with his work as a librarian and antiquarian, while the second part focuses on his activities as a poet and his contribution to entertainments at the court of Heidelberg.

Outlines of Beger's life are to be found in Jocher's Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon and in Zedler's Grosses Universal Lexicon, which provides a reference to the most detailed biographical source. This is Memoires Concernant les Vies et les Ouvrages de plusieurs Modernes Celebres dans la Republique des Lettres, by Mr Ancillon, one of the chief representatives of the Huguenot community in Berlin, an intellectual and lawyer, whose Memoires contain a section of over thirty printed sides dedicated to the life and works of Beger. (2) Ancillon provides little information about Beger's youth except that his father encouraged him to pursue his innate scholarly interests. Intending his son to enter the church, he prevailed upon Beger, a student at Heidelberg University, to exchange the study of law for that of theology. Beger clearly did not share his father's aspirations and after his death resumed his legal studies. Such was his progress that he caught the attention of Elector Karl Ludwig, who in 1675 decided to appoint the twenty-two-year-old student librarian to the electoral library. Ancillon remarks that this act of patronage required that Beger extend the scope of his studies to include the study of languages. Why Beger should find it necessary to acquire a knowledge of foreign languages in order to fulfil his new duties becomes clear when one examines his massive hand-written folio volume of over 650 sides in which he listed all the works in the electoral library. This catalogue, now held in the Landesbibliothek in Kassel, is illuminating for what it indicates about princely collections of the period and particularly for what it implies about the interests of Karl Ludwig. (3) The references to works by Lope de Vega, Ariosto, Guarini, Marino, Rabelais, Cyrano de Bergerac, Moliere, and Thomas and Pierre Corneille reflect the familiarity with Spanish and particularly with Italian and French cultures typical of an educated German nobleman of the period. Equally they support Karl Ludwig's reputation as a talented linguist who had a keen interest in poetry and theatre; the presence, for example, of an edition of Les Femmes scavantes published a year after the play's first performance in 1672 suggests that Karl Ludwig kept abreast of developments in French theatre. …

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